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U.S. Halts Plans for Sanctions on Israel’s Netzah Yehuda Battalion Amid Intense Pressure and Review

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June 2, 2024: The U.S. State Department has temporarily suspended its plans to impose sanctions on the Israel Defense Forces’ (IDF) Netzah Yehuda battalion over human rights violations in the West Bank. This decision follows a review prompted by recent information provided by Israel, according to sources familiar with the issue.

Why It Matters

This review is part of a broader consultation process defined in an agreement between the U.S. and Israel. Secretary of State Antony Blinken faces significant pressure from various quarters, including the Israeli government, U.S. Congress members, and some senior Biden administration officials, urging a reconsideration of the proposed sanctions.

The Big Picture

The Biden administration had initially planned to withhold U.S. military aid and training from the Netzah Yehuda battalion, marking an unprecedented move in U.S.-Israel relations. This intended action would have been in compliance with the Leahy Law, a 1997 statute authored by then-Senator Patrick Leahy. The law prohibits U.S. foreign aid and Defense Department training programs from being allocated to foreign military or security units credibly accused of human rights violations.

Driving the News

On the previous Saturday, Axios reported that Blinken planned to impose sanctions on the Netzah Yehuda unit under the Leahy Law. This announcement caught Israeli leaders by surprise and led to strong reactions from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and opposition leader Yair Lapid, both of whom publicly urged the Biden administration to reconsider.

Behind the Scenes

In response to the U.S. concerns, Israeli officials, including President Isaac Herzog, Defense Minister Yoav Galant, and Minister Benny Gantz, engaged in discussions with senior U.S. officials, including Vice President Kamala Harris and Secretary Blinken. These discussions focused on urging the U.S. to reassess the sanctions proposal.

Recent days have seen several communications between IDF and Israeli Foreign Ministry lawyers and U.S. State Department officials. During these exchanges, Israel provided new information regarding the Netzah Yehuda battalion, particularly about a 2022 TikTok video in which battalion soldiers were filmed abusing Palestinian detainees. Israel explained the disciplinary actions taken following this incident and emphasized the lack of civil lawsuits from Palestinians due to no formal complaints being filed.

Between the Lines

Israel expressed serious concerns that a State Department determination against the Netzah Yehuda battalion could increase the risk of the International Criminal Court issuing arrest warrants for Israeli soldiers and officers. This potential legal threat added to the urgency of the discussions.

State of Play

Secretary Blinken, under significant internal and external pressure, sent a letter to House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) stating that the review process regarding the Netzah Yehuda battalion would not affect the supplemental aid package to Israel passed by Congress. In the letter, Blinken acknowledged the unit’s human rights violations but indicated that new information from Israel was under consideration to find a path to effective remediation.

Background on Netzah Yehuda

The Netzah Yehuda battalion, also known as Nahal Haredi, was established in 1999 to enable Haredi Jewish men to serve as combat soldiers while adhering to their religious convictions. The battalion has grown to over 1,000 soldiers and includes various operational units.

The battalion, however, has been embroiled in several controversial incidents over the years, involving allegations of excessive force and abuse against Palestinians. These incidents have led to jail time, discharges, and harsh criticism for some of its members. In December 2022, the IDF reassigned the battalion from the West Bank to the Golan Heights to reduce its exposure to Palestinians.

Current Status

Blinken’s determination that the Netzah Yehuda battalion committed human rights violations has not changed. However, the U.S. is now in a consultation process with Israel to assess whether Israel is taking adequate steps to address these violations. If these measures are deemed insufficient, the U.S. will enforce the Leahy Law and withhold aid to the battalion.


The U.S. State Department’s decision to review, rather than immediately impose, sanctions on the Netzah Yehuda battalion underscores the complex dynamics of U.S.-Israel relations and the broader geopolitical considerations at play. The outcome of this review process will likely have significant implications for both nations and their ongoing cooperation in military and security matters.

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